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The First Epistle General of
Title. The title given in most of the Uncial MSS. is simply like the short English form, 1 Peter. Some of the Cursive, or later, MSS., give the variations, “The first Catholic (or general) Epistle of Peter,” and “The Catholic Epistle of the Holy and Venerable ( pan-euphemos ) Apostle Peter.”
1 . Peter ] We note that the new name which his Lord had given him has replaced, in his own mind as in that of others, that of Simon Bar-jona (Matthew 16:17 ), by which he had once been known. So, in like manner, Paul takes the name of Saul, in the letters of that Apostle. Like him also, he describes himself as the “Apostle,” the envoy or representative, of Christ.
to the strangers scattered …] Literally, taking the words in their Greek order, to the elect sojourners of the dispersion . The last word occurs in the New Testament in John 7:35 and James 1:1 , and in the Apocrypha in 2 Macc. 1:27. It was used as a collective term for the whole aggregate of Jews who, since the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, had been scattered in Asia and elsewhere. It follows from this that the Apostle, true to his character, as sent to the circumcision (Galatians 2:7 ), addresses himself mainly, if not exclusively, to the Jewish Christians of the regions which he names, but the term would naturally include also the proselytes to Judaism, and so accounts for some of the phrases in the Epistle which seem to imply that some of its readers had had a Gentile origin. The term “sojourners” is translated “pilgrims” in chap. 2:11 and Hebrews 11:13 . Its exact meaning is that of “dwellers in a strange land.”
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ] The order of the names is, on the whole, that which would present itself to the mind of a man writing, as St Peter does, from the East (chap. 5:13). The existence of Christian communities in the five provinces witnesses to the extent of unrecorded mission-work in the Apostolic age. The foundation of the Churches in Galatia and Asia is, of course, traceable to St Paul (Acts 16:6 , Acts 19:10 ); those in Pontus may possibly have been due to the labours of Aquila, who was a native of that region (Acts 18:2 ). Bithynia had once been contemplated by St Paul as a field for his labours (Acts 16:7 ), but we do not read of his actually working either there or in Cappadocia. See Introduction as to the history of the Churches thus named.
2 . elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father ] The word “elect” or chosen belongs, as already stated, to verse 1, but the English sufficiently represents the meaning of the Greek. The word and the thought that the disciples of Christ are what they are by the election or choice of God, characterises the whole teaching of the New Testament. Here there is the personal interest of noting that the word is prominent in the Gospel of St Mark, which we have seen reason to connect closely with St Peter’s influence, and in that portion of our Lord’s discourses recorded in it (Mark 13:20 , Mark 13:22 , Mark 13:27 ), to which the wars and tumults of Palestine must at this time have been drawing attention. Comp. also the prominence of the thought and of the verbs for “choosing” in John 13:18 , John 13:15 :16, John 13:19 . The “elect” had, like the “saints” (Acts 9:13 ), become almost a synonyme for Christians (2 Timothy 2:10 ; Titus 1:1 ). And this choice is referred to the “foreknowledge” of God. The word hovers between the meaning of a mere prevision of the future, and the higher sense in which “knowing” means “loving” and “approving,” as in 1 Corinthians 8:3 , Galatians 4:9 , and probably Romans 8:29 , Romans 11:2 . The noun occurs in the New Testament only here and in St Peter’s speech in Acts 2:23 , and is so far evidence of continuity of character and thought. In what way the thought of man’s freedom to will was reconcileable with that of God’s electing purpose the writers of the New Testament did not care to discuss. They felt, we may believe, instinctively, half unconsciously, that the problem was insoluble, and were content to accept the two beliefs, which cannot logically be reconciled. In the words “the foreknowledge of God the Father ,” we find, perhaps, the secret of their acceptance of this aspect of the Divine Government. The choice and the knowledge were not those of an arbitrary sovereign will, capricious as are the sovereigns of earth, in its favours and antipathies, seeking only to manifest its power, but of a Father whose tender mercies were over all His works, and who sought to manifest His love to all His children. From that stand-point the “choice” of some to special blessings was compatible with perfect equity to all. It should be noticed that in Romans 8:29 we have “foreknowledge” as a step in the Divine order prior to predestination, but it may well be questioned whether either Apostle had present to his thoughts the logical solution presented by the Arminian theory, that God, foreseeing the characters of men as they would have been, if not predestined, then predestined them accordingly. On that theory the question may well be asked, What made them such as God thus foreknew? The difficulty is but thrown further back, and it is wiser to accept the conclusion that the problem is insoluble, and that the language of Scripture issues in the antinomy of apparently contradictory propositions.
through sanctification of the Spirit ] The word for “sanctification,” for which, perhaps, consecration would be a better equivalent, is used eight times by St Paul, once in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:14), here, and not elsewhere in the New Testament. Grammatically the words admit of the interpretation which sees in them the sanctification of the human spirit (genitive of the object), but the juxtaposition of the word Spirit with that of the Father and with Christ, is decisive in favour of the explanation which sees in the construction the genitive of the subject, or of the agent, and finds in the sanctification wrought by the Spirit the region in which the foreknowledge of God finds its completion.
unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ ] The clause is co-ordinate with that which precedes it, pointing to the end of the election as that points to the sphere in which it worked and the means by which it was to be accomplished. In “obedience” we have the active human side of the result, in the “sprinkling” the Divine side of pardon and acceptance. The word for “sprinkling” is found elsewhere only in Hebrews 12:24 , where, as in this place, it refers definitely to the narrative of Exodus 24:8 . Moses had sprinkled Israel according to the flesh with the blood of oxen, as being “the blood of the covenant,” that by contact with which they were brought within the covenant of which he was the mediator (Galatians 3:19 ). In like manner, in St Peter’s words, believers in Christ are brought within the new covenant by the mystical, spiritual sprinkling on their souls and spirits of the blood of Jesus, and for that sprinkling God had chosen them with a purpose supremely wise to which no time-limits could be assigned. The same thought, it may be noted, is expressed in St John’s words, that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ).
Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied ] The combination of “grace” and “peace” may be noted as a probable instance of St Peter’s adopting the very phraseology of St Paul, as he found it in the letters with which 2 Peter 3:16 (assuming the genuineness of that Epistle) shews him to have been acquainted. In “peace” we have the old Hebrew formula of salutation (Matthew 10:12 , Matthew 10:13 ): in “grace” ( χάρις ) probably the substitution of the more definite Christian thought for the “joy” or “greeting” ( χαίρειν ) which, as in Acts 15:23 , James 1:1 , was the customary opening formula of Greek epistles. The addition of “be multiplied” is peculiar to the two Epistles of St Peter (2 Peter 1:2 ), and to the Epistle of St Jude (verse 2), which presents so many points of contact with the second of those two.
3 . Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ] Here again we note the close correspondence with the opening words of two of St Paul’s Epistles (2 Corinthians 1:3 , Ephesians 1:3 ). It is, of course, possible that both have adopted what was a common inheritance from Jewish devout feeling, modified by the new faith in Christ; but looking to the reproduction of Pauline phrases in other instances, the idea of derivation seems on the whole the most probable.
which according to his abundant mercy ] Literally, as in the margin, “his much or great mercy.” The thought, though here not the phraseology, is identical with St Paul’s “being rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4 ). In the prominence thus given to the “mercy” of God, as shewn in His redeeming and sanctifying work, we recognise the conviction that those who were the objects of His favour were at once wretched, and unworthy of it through their guilt, and that His pity for that wretchedness was the source of the “grace” or “favour” which He had thus shewn to them.
hath begotten us again unto a lively hope ] Better perhaps “a living hope,” a hope not destined, as human hopes proverbially were, to be frail and perishable, but having in it the elements of a perennial life. And this was brought about by God’s regenerating work on and in the soul. The word which St Peter uses is peculiar to him among the writers of the New Testament, and meets us again in verse 23. The thought, however, is common to him with St James (“of His own will begat He us,” 1:18), with St Paul (“the washing of regeneration,” Titus 3:5 ), and with our Lord’s teaching (“except a man be born again”) as recorded by St John (John 3:5 ). It is noticeable that St Peter, who elsewhere (chap. 3:21) lays so much stress on baptism, does not here refer to it as the instrument of the new birth, but goes further back to the Resurrection of Christ as that without which baptism and faith would have been alike ineffectual. In this also his teaching is substantially at one with St Paul’s, who sees in baptism that in which we are at once “buried with Christ,” and raised by and with Him to “newness of life” (Romans 6:3 , Romans 6:4 ).
4 . to an inheritance incorruptible ] The clause is co-ordinate with the preceding and depends upon the word “begotten.” The idea of the “inheritance” is again essentially Pauline (Acts 20:32 , Galatians 3:18 , Ephesians 1:14 , Ephesians 1:18 and elsewhere). The epithets attached to the word distinguish it from any earthly inheritance, such as had been given to Israel (Acts 7:5 ), and agree with the “everlasting inheritance” of Hebrews 9:15 . Here it answers to the completed “salvation” of the next verse, of which we get glimpses and foretastes here, but which is reserved in its fulness in and for the region of the eternal. In that inheritance there is nothing that mars, nothing that defiles (Revelation 21:27 ), nothing that fades away, as the flower of the field fadeth (James 1:10 , James 1:11 ). The two latter adjectives ( amiantos, amarantos ) have in the Greek an impressive assonance which cannot be reproduced in English.
for you ] Some MSS. give “for us,” but this was probably a correction due to the use of the first person in the preceding verse, and the present text, which rests on the authority of the best MSS., is like St Paul’s changes from the first person to the second (as in Romans 7:4 , Romans 7:5 , Ephesians 2:13 , Ephesians 2:14 ), the natural expression of the feeling of the Apostle that what he hopes and believes for himself, he hopes and believes also for those to whom he writes.
5 . who are kept by the power of God through faith ] In the word for “kept,” we have, as in 2 Corinthians 11:32 in its literal, and Philippians 4:7 in its figurative sense, the idea of being “guarded” as men are guarded in a camp or citadel. Of that guarding we have (1) the objective aspect, the “power of God” being as the force that encompasses and protects us, and (2) the subjective faith, as that through which, as in the vision of Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:16 ), we feel that we are guarded, and see that “those that are with us are more than they that be against us.”
unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time ] It is clear that the word “salvation” is used here, with its highest possible connotation, as including not only present pardon and peace, but also, as in Romans 13:11 , 1 Thessalonians 5:8 , the full consummation of blessedness. In this sense it is identical with the “manifestation of the sons of God” of Romans 8:19 , the “glory which shall be revealed.”
6 . Wherein ye greatly rejoice ] The English verb and adverb answer to the single Greek word which expresses, as in Matthew 5:12 , Luke 1:47 , Luke 10:21 , the act of an exulting joy. The verb occurs three times in this Epistle, not at all in St Paul’s, and may fairly be regarded as an echo from our Lord’s use of it as recorded above in the Sermon on the Mount.
though now for a season, if need be ] Literally, for a little , but as the words almost certainly refer to the duration, not to the degree, of the sufferings spoken of, the English version (or for a little while ) may be accepted as correct. In the “if need be” we have an implied belief that the sufferings were not fortuitous, nor sent without a purpose. They had their necessary place in the process by which God was working out the sanctification of His children.
ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations ] The sense of the Greek participle would, perhaps, be better expressed by ye were grieved , or, made sorry . He writes of what he had heard as to their sufferings. He does not actually know that they are still continuing. In the “manifold temptations” we note the use of the same phrase as in James 1:2 , with which St Peter could hardly fail to have been acquainted. Here, as there and in Acts 20:19 , the “temptations” are chiefly those which come to men from without, persecutions, troubles, what we call the “trials” of life.
7 . that the trial of your faith ] The use of the self-same phrase as in James 1:3 strengthens the conclusion suggested in the previous note as to St Peter’s knowledge of this Epistle. Test , perhaps even proof or probation , would better express the force of the Greek word. Faith is not known to be what it is until it is tested by suffering.
being much more precious than of gold that perisheth ] The words suggest at once a natural similitude and point out its incompleteness. That “gold is tried and purified by fire” was a familiar analogy, as in Proverbs 17:3 , Proverbs 27:21 , Ecclus. 2:5, 1 Corinthians 3:13 , but the gold so purified belongs still to the category of perishable things, while the faith which is purified by suffering takes its place among those that are imperishable.
might be found unto praise and honour and glory ] The words stand somewhat vaguely in the Greek as in the English, and might possibly express that what men suffer is for God’s glory. The context, however, and the parallelism of Romans 2:7 , make it certain that they refer to the “praise” [found here only in conjunction with the familiar combination (Romans 2:7 , Romans 2:10 , 1 Timothy 1:17 ) of “honour and glory”] which men shall receive (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:5 ), when sufferings rightly borne have done their work, in and at the revelation of Jesus Christ in His Second Coming as the Judge of all men.
8 . whom having not seen, ye love ] Some of the better MSS. give whom not knowing ye love , but the reading adopted in the English version rests on sufficient authority and gives a better meaning. The Apostle, in writing the words, could hardly intend to contrast, however real the contrast might be, his own condition as one who had seen with that of these distant disciples. Did there float in his mind the recollection of the words “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 )? In any case he emphasizes the fact that their love for Christ does not depend, as human love almost invariably does, upon outward personal acquaintance. He too, like St Paul, has learnt to know Christ no more after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16 ). The next clause, which seems at first almost a tame repetition of the same thought, really points to a new characteristic paradox in the spiritual life. The exulting joy of human affection manifests itself when the lover looks on the face of his beloved (Song of Song of Solomon 2:14 ). Here that joy is represented as found in its fulness where the Presence is visible not to the eye of the body, but only to that of faith. Like all deeper emotions it is too deep for words “unspeakable,” as were the words which St Paul heard in his vision of Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4 ), as were the groanings of the Spirit making intercession for and with our spirits (Romans 8:26 ), and it was “full of glory” (literally, glorified ) already, in its foretaste of the future, transfigured beyond the brightness of any earthly bliss.
9 . receiving the end of your faith ] The question has been raised whether these words refer to the present or the future. It has been urged on the one hand that the word for “receiving” applied in 2 Corinthians 5:10 , and perhaps in Hebrews 10:36 , Ephesians 6:8 , to the ultimate issue of God’s judgment, excludes the former. On the other hand, it may be replied that it is arbitrary to limit the last two passages to the final judgment, and that the tense both of “rejoice” and “receiving” is definitely present. On the whole therefore there is no adequate reason against taking the words in their natural and obvious meaning. Those to whom the Apostle wrote were thought of as already receiving, very really, though not, it might be, in its ultimate fulness, that which was the “end” or “goal” of their faith, and that goal was found in the “salvation” of their “souls” the deliverance of their moral being (in this instance the word includes “spirit,” though elsewhere it is distinguished from it) from the burden of guilt, the sense of condemnation, the misery and discord of alienation from God.
10 . Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently ] The words require a slight correction before we proceed to explain them. The noun “prophets” is without the article and the verbs are in the aorist and not the perfect. We translate accordingly, of which salvation prophets enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied . The words have commonly been taken as referring exclusively to the Old Testament prophets, and it is at least right to set before the reader the interpretation of the passage in detail based upon that assumption. Those prophets, it is said, saw the future sufferings of Christ and the after glory but not the time of their accomplishment. The Spirit which taught them was, though they knew it not, the Spirit of Christ, one with that which proceeds from Him and which He bestows on His people. The sufferings appointed for Christ (this, rather than “sufferings of Christ,” is the true rendering) were such as those indicated prophetically in Isaiah 53:0 , typically in Psalms 22:0 . The glories were those of His Eternal Kingdom. It was revealed to the prophets that they were ministering these things (the verb is in the tense that implies continuous action) not for themselves (comp. the parallel language of Hebrews 11:13 , Hebrews 11:39 ) but for “you” (some MSS. giving “us”), i.e. for the whole body of future believers in Christ. And these things, the sufferings of Christ and the glories of the future kingdom, were now, St Peter adds, “reported” by the preachers of the Gospel, those preachers being themselves also inspired by the Holy Ghost sent down, as on the day of Pentecost, to fit them for their work; the Gospel which was so preached including, on the one hand, the sufferings of Christ, as they are recorded in the written Gospels, and embodying all that had been revealed to the writers, of the future glory. And these things, he adds, “angels (the word is again without the article, as emphasizing the contrast between them as a class and prophets as a class) ‘desire to look into,’ yet do not see them with the clearness with which the true believer in Christ contemplates them.”
Having thus stated with, it is believed, adequate fulness what may be called the received interpretation of the words, it remains to give that which seems, on the whole, to be truer to the meaning of the words, and which presents a solution of phenomena which the other leaves unsolved. The basis of this other explanation lies in the belief that St Peter is speaking mainly, though perhaps not exclusively, of the prophets of the Apostolic Church. The position of those prophets was, we must remember, as prominent as that of the Apostles (Ephesians 2:20 , Ephesians 2:3 :5, Ephesians 2:4 :11; 2 Peter 3:2 ). Among those with whom St Peter had been brought into personal contact were Barnabas, the “son of consolation,” or, as the Hebrew might be interpreted, the “son of prophecy” (Acts 4:36 ), Agabus (Acts 11:28 , Acts 21:10 ), Judas, and Silas or Silvanus (Acts 15:32 ). In 2 Peter 1:19 we have sufficient proof of the importance attached to the “prophetic word” as a light giving guidance amidst the darkness and perplexities of the time. In 2 Peter 3:1-13 we see that they spoke of the glories of the new heaven and the new earth after a time of darkness and distress In 1 Corinthians 2:9 , 1 Corinthians 2:10 we read how the things which “eye had not seen nor ear heard” had been revealed to prophets by the Spirit, and in Romans 16:25 , Romans 16:26 , in like manner, that “the mystery which had been kept secret since the world began was now made manifest in prophetic writings,” just as in Ephesians 3:5 St Paul speaks of the same mystery as now “revealed unto the Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit.” All this is enough, it is believed, to warrant, if only at first, tentatively, the assumption that the prophets of the New Testament are those of whom St Peter speaks. It will be seen how far the detailed examination of what follows falls in with the hypothesis.
11 . searching what, or what manner of time ] The two words have each a distinct force, the first indicating the wish of men to fix the date of the coming of the Lord absolutely, the second to determine the note or character of the season of its approach. Of that craving we find examples in the question “wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” which was met by our Lord with the answer “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons” (Acts 1:6 , Acts 1:7 ), in the over-heated expectations which St Paul checks in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , in the hopes that were met by the mocking scorn which St Peter himself rebukes in 2 Peter 3:3-8 .
the Spirit of Christ which was in them ] It will hardly be questioned that the name thus given to the Spirit, as compared with Romans 8:9 and Galatians 4:6 , primarily suggests the thought of prophets who were living and working in the Christian Church rather than of those of the older Church of Israel.
when it testified beforehand the sufferings ] To the English readers these words naturally seem decisive in favour of the current interpretation, and against that which is here suggested. But they seem so only because they are a mistranslation of the original. When St Peter wishes to speak of the “sufferings of Christ,” he uses a different construction (chap. 4:13, 5:1), as St Paul does (2 Corinthians 1:5 ). Here the phrase, as has been noticed above, is different. St Peter speaks of the sufferings (which pass on) unto Christ . The thought is identical with that of St Paul’s, expressed in terms so analogous that it is a marvel that their bearing on this passage should have escaped the notice of commentators. “As the sufferings of Christ abound toward us,” St Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:5 ), “so also does our consolation.” He thinks of the communion between Christ and His people as involving their participation in His sufferings. Is it not obvious that St Peter presents in almost identical phraseology the converse of that thought, and that the “sufferings” spoken of are those which the disciples were enduring for Christ, and which he thinks of as shared by Him, flowing over to Him? That predictions of such sufferings, sometimes general, sometimes personal, entered largely into the teaching of the prophets of the New Testament we see from Acts 11:28 , Acts 11:20 :23, Acts 11:21 :11; 2 Timothy 2:3 , 2 Timothy 2:12 . That they dwelt also upon the “glories” that should come after the sufferings lies almost in the very nature of the case. Visions of Paradise and the third heaven, as in 2 Corinthians 12:1-5 , of the throne and the rainbow and the sea of glass, and the heavenly Jerusalem, like those of St John, were, we may well believe, as indeed 1 Corinthians 2:9 , 1 Corinthians 2:10 sufficiently indicates, almost the common heritage of the prophets of the Apostolic Church.
12 . Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us ] The better MSS. give “you” instead of “us,” obviously with a better sense and in closer agreement with the “you” of the following clause. What is meant, still keeping to the line of interpretation here adopted, is that the prophets who had these previsions, at once of the coming sufferings and coming glories of the Church, had not carried on their ministering work for themselves, bounded, i.e., as by local and personal interests, but with a view to those even of the most distant members of the great family of God. The vision of the heavenly Jerusalem was for the dwellers in Pontus and Asia, in Rome or Corinth, as much as for those who lived within the walls of the earthly city.
which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel ] The Greek verbs are in the aorist, and therefore point to something in the past, but English idiom hardly allows us to combine present and past by saying “which now were reported.” Here, it is believed, St Peter speaks of St Luke, St Paul, and the other labourers by whom the provinces of Asia Minor had been evangelised. They too, he recognises, were as fully inspired as the prophets of whom he had just spoken.
which things the angels desire to look into ] Better, angels , without the article. See note on verse 10. The word for “look” is the same as that used by St James (1:25), and implies, as in Luke 24:12 , John 20:5 , John 20:11 , the earnest gaze of one who bends over a given object and scrutinizes it thoroughly. The words fit in, perhaps, with either of the two interpretations, but considering the part assigned to angels in the records of the Gospels, in connexion alike with the Nativity (Matthew 2:13 , Matthew 2:19 ; Luke 1:11 , Luke 1:26 , 2:Luke 1:9-15 ), the Passion (Luke 22:43 ), the Resurrection (Matthew 28:2 ; Mark 16:5 ; Luke 24:4 ; John 20:12 ) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10 , Acts 1:11 ), it is more natural to refer them to sufferings and glories that were still future than to those of which they had already been spectators.
13 . Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind ] The words were in any case a natural figure for prompt readiness for activity, but, coming from one who had been a personal disciple of the Lord Jesus, we cannot fail to trace in them an echo of His words as recorded in Luke 12:35 , possibly also, looking to the many instances of parallelism with St Paul’s Epistles, of those which we find in Ephesians 6:14 . The sequence of thought is that the prospect of the coming glories should be a motive to unflagging activity during men’s sojourn upon earth.
be sober, and hope to the end ] The verb for “be sober” expresses a sobriety of the Nazarite type. It meets us in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 , 1 Thessalonians 5:8 , and in this Epistle, chaps. 4:7, 5:8. The marginal reading perfectly , as though he said “hope with a hope that lacks nothing of completeness,” answers better to the meaning of the adverb than the phrase in the English Version.
the grace that is to be brought unto you ] Literally, as the Greek participle is in the present tense and has no gerundial force, the grace which is being brought unto you . The communication is thought of as continuous, and finding its sphere of action in every successive revelation of Jesus Christ from that of the soul’s first consciousness of His presence, as in Galatians 1:16 , through those which accompany the stages of spiritual growth, as in 2 Corinthians 12:1 , to that of the final Advent. The use of the phrase in verse 7 gives, perhaps, a somewhat emphatic prominence to the last thought.
14 . as obedient children ] Literally, children of obedience . The phrase is more or less a Hebraism, like “children of wrath,” Ephesians 2:3 , or the more closely parallel “children of disobedience” in Ephesians 5:6 . The “cursed children,” literally, children of a curse , of 2 Peter 2:14 , furnishes another example of the Hebrew feeling which looks on the relation of sonship as a parable symbolizing the inheritance of character or status.
not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts ] The word is the same as that used by St Paul in Romans 12:2 , where the English Version gives “conformed.” The words “in your ignorance” are in the Greek more closely connected with “lusts,” the former lusts that were in your ignorance . We trace an echo of the feeling expressed by St Peter in Acts 3:17 , and again by St Paul in Acts 17:30 , that the whole life of men, whether Jews or Gentiles, before the revelation of Christ, was a time of ignorance, to be judged as such. The former was at least likely to remember, as he wrote, his Master’s words as to “the servant who knew not his lord’s will” (Luke 12:48 ), and who was therefore to be “beaten with few stripes.” It does not follow, as some have thought, that he is thinking here, chiefly or exclusively, of those who had been heathens. The words were in their breadth and fulness as true of Jew and Gentile alike as were St Paul’s in Romans 11:32 .
15 . be ye holy in all manner of conversation ] Better, in every form of conduct . The word “conversation,” once used in its true meaning ( conversari = living, moving to and fro, with others), has during the last hundred and fifty years settled down almost irrecoverably into a synonym for “talking.” Swift is, I believe, the first writer in whom the later meaning takes the place of the earlier. In Cowper’s poem “Conversation” it is used without even a reminiscence of the fuller significance of the word. For its use in the Authorized Version, see Psalms 37:14 , 50:23; 2 Corinthians 1:12 ; Galatians 1:13 , and many other passages. In the reference to the holiness of God as calling us to reproduce, in our measure, that holiness in our own lives, we have an echo of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48 ). The Greek of the previous clause has a force which the English but imperfectly represents. More literally we might say after the pattern of the Holy One who called you .
16 . because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy ] Literally, ye shall be holy , the future, as in the Ten Commandments, having the force of the imperative. The words, which occur frequently in the Levitical code (Leviticus 11:44 , Leviticus 19:2 , Leviticus 20:26 ), were applied sometimes to the priests as such, sometimes to the whole nation as a kingdom of priests. We see from ch. 2:5, that the Apostle’s thought is that all members of the Church of Christ have succeeded to that character, and are sharers in the priestly function, offering spiritual sacrifices.
17 . And if ye call on the Father …] Better, as the Greek noun has no article, if ye call upon a Father , i.e. if you worship not an arbitrary Judge, but one of whom Fatherhood is the essential character. The sequel shews that this attribute of Fatherhood is not thought of as excluding the idea of judgment, but gives assurance that the judgment will be one of perfect equity.
who without respect of persons ] We note the prominence of this thought, derived originally from the impression by our Lord’s words and acts (Matthew 22:16 ), as presenting a coincidence (1) with the Apostle’s own words in Acts 10:34 ; and (2) as in other instances, with the teaching of St James (2:1 4).
pass the time of your sojourning here in fear ] The verb for “pass” is that from which is derived the noun for “conversation” or “conduct.” The connexion of thought may be indicated, in the English as in the Greek, by rendering conduct yourselves during the time of your sojourning . The latter word connects itself with the “strangers” of verse 1, and yet more with the “strangers and sojourners” of ch. 2:11. The “fear” which is urged upon them, is not the terror of slaves, but the reverential awe of sons, even the true fear of the Lord which is “the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10 ; Proverbs 1:7 .) Comp. also Luke 12:4 , Luke 12:5 .
18 . as ye know that ye were not redeemed …] The idea of a ransom as a price paid for liberation from captivity or death, suggests the contrast between the silver and gold which were paid commonly for human ransoms, and the price which Christ had paid. In the word itself we have an echo of our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 20:28 , Mark 10:45 . In this instance, it will be noted, stress is laid on the fact that the liberation effected by the ransom is not from the penalty of an evil life, but from the evil life itself.
from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers ] Better, as before, vain conduct . It has been somewhat rashly inferred from these words that the Apostle is speaking mainly, if not exclusively, of the converts from heathenism who were to be found in the Asiatic Churches. His own words, however, in Acts 15:10 , yet more the condemnation passed by our Lord on the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:2-6 , Mark 7:3-13 ), and St Paul’s reference to his living after the traditions of the fathers (Galatians 1:14 ), are surely enough to warrant the conclusion that he is speaking here of the degenerate Judaism of those whom he addresses, rather than turning to a different class of readers, or, at the least, that his words include the former.
19 . but with the precious blood of Christ ] The order of the Greek, and the absence of the article before “blood,” somewhat modify the meaning. Better, with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot , [even that] of Christ . That blood, the life which it represented, poured out upon the cross, took its place among the things that were not corruptible, and is contrasted accordingly with the “silver” and the “gold.” With the exception of the substitution of the “blood which is the life” for the life itself, the thought is identical with that of the two passages (Matthew 20:28 , Mark 10:45 ) already referred to. The minds of the disciples had been directed to the “blood” thus understood, as connected with remission of sins, in what we know as the words of institution at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28 , Mark 14:24 , Luke 22:20 ). In the blood being that of a “lamb,” we trace the impression made on the mind of the Apostle by the words which the Baptist had spoken in the hearing of St John (John 1:29 ), and which are reproduced with so much vividness in the Apocalypse (Revelation 5:6 , Revelation 5:12 ). The question meets us, and is not easy to answer, To what special sacrifice ordained in the law of Moses do they refer? The epithet “without blemish” seems to point to the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:5 ), but neither of the adjectives which St Peter uses is found in the LXX. version in connexion with the Passover. As connected with the deliverance of Israel both from the angel of death and from their bondage in Egypt, the blood so shed might well come to be thought of as the instrument of redemption. Had a lamb been sacrificed on the day of Atonement, that would have seemed the natural type of the death of Christ, but there the victim was a goat (Leviticus 16:7 ); the daily morning and evening sacrifice of a lamb (Exodus 29:38 ) fails as being unconnected with any special act of redeeming love. On the whole, perhaps, it is best to think of the comparison, suggested originally by the Baptist’s words, as pointing to the fact that whatever typical significance had attached to the lamb in any part of the complex ritual of the law had now been realised in Christ.
20 . who verily was foreordained ] Literally, foreknown , but the foreknowledge of God implies the foreordaining. Here also we note the coincidence with St Peter’s language in Acts 2:23 , Acts 3:18 . The Greek for “these last times” is literally the end of the times . The Apostle’s language was determined probably in part by the prophecy of Joel which he cites in Acts 2:17 , in part by his belief that with the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, the last period of God’s dealings with mankind, the duration of which it was not given to him to measure, had actually begun. In the thought that the foreknowledge of God was “before the foundation of the world,” we have the very phrase which St Peter had heard from our Lord’s lips in Matthew 25:34 , Luke 11:50 , John 17:24 , and which he may have read with the same force as in this passage in Ephesians 1:4 .
21 . who by him do believe in God …] Literally, who through him are faithful (or believing) towards God ; the adjective expressing a permanent attribute of character rather than the mere act which would be expressed by the participle in Greek, and the present indicative in English.
that raised him up from the dead …] The prominence given to the Resurrection as the ground of Faith and Hope is eminently characteristic of St Peter (Acts 2:32-36 , Acts 3:15 , Acts 4:10 ). The redemptive act was completed in the shedding of the “precious blood,” but the Resurrection and the “glory” of the Ascension were the foundation of man’s confidence that the work had been completed. The “in God” expresses the Credo in Deum rather than Credo Deo ; faith and hope were to find their object in God, be directed towards Him.
22 . Seeing ye have purified your souls ] It may be noted that the use of the Greek verb “purify,” in this spiritual sense, is peculiar to St Peter, and to his friends St James (4:8) and St John (1 John 3:3 ). In John 11:55 , Acts 21:24 , Acts 21:26 , Acts 21:24 :18, it is found in its ceremonial significance. In Acts 15:9 and Titus 2:14 , the Greek verb is different. The purity implied is prominently, as commonly with the cognate adjective, freedom from sensual lust, but includes within its range freedom from all forms of selfishness. The instrument by which, or the region in which, this work of purification is to be accomplished, is found in “obedience to the truth;” the Truth standing here for the sum and substance of the revelation of God in Christ.
unto unfeigned love of the brethren ] The Greek noun which answers to the last four words is, in its wide range of meaning, almost, if not altogether, a coinage of Christian thought. The names of Ptolemy Philadelphus (= the lover of his brother) and of the city of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7 ) had probably given a wide currency to the adjective. St Paul uses it in Romans 12:10 , 1 Thessalonians 4:9 , St Peter here and in 2 Peter 1:7 . The general bearing of the passage runs parallel to St Paul’s “the end of the commandment is charity (better, love ) out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5 ).
love one another with a pure heart fervently ] The better MSS. omit “pure” which may have been inserted from a reminiscence of 1 Timothy 1:5 . The adverb is strictly “intensely” rather than “fervently.” It is noticeable that the only other passage in which it meets us in the New Testament is in Acts 12:5 , where it, or the cognate adjective, is used of the prayer offered by the Church for St Peter.
23 . being born again ] Better, having been begotten again , the verb being the same as that in verse 3. The “corruptible seed” is that which is the cause of man’s natural birth, and the preposition which St Peter uses exactly expresses this thought of an originating cause. In the second clause, on the other hand, he uses the preposition which distinctly expresses instrumentality. The “word of God” is that through which God, the author of the new life, calls that life into being.
by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever ] The Greek order of the words leaves it doubtful whether the two predicates belong to “the word,” or to “God,” but the sequence of thought is decisive in favour of connecting them with the former. They are used to shew that the word of God, which is the seed of the new birth, is, as has been said, incorruptible. They prepare the way for the emphatic reiteration in verse 25, that the “word of the Lord” endureth for ever, the same word being used in the Greek as for the “abideth” of this verse.
It is obvious that the word of God is more here than any written book, more than any oral teaching of the Gospel, however mighty that teaching might be in its effects. If we cannot say that St Peter uses the term LOGOS with precisely the same significance as St John (John 1:1 , John 1:14 ), it is yet clear that he thinks of it as a divine, eternal, creative power, working in and on the soul of man. It was “the word of the Lord” which had thus come to the prophets of old, of which the Psalmist had spoken as “a lamp unto his feet,” and “a light unto his path” (Psalms 119:105 ). St Peter’s use of the term stands on the same level as that of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who speaks of “the word of God” as “quick and powerful … a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 , Hebrews 4:13 ). It is, i.e., nothing less than God manifested as speaking to the soul of man, a manifestation of which either the preached or the written word may be the instrument, but which may work independently of both, and is not to be identified with either.
24 . For all flesh is as grass ] The words have a two-fold interest: (1) as a quotation from the portion of Isaiah’s prophecy (40:6 8) with which the Apostle must have been familiar in connexion with the ministry of the Baptist, and (2) as presenting another coincidence with the thoughts and language of the Epistle of St James (1:10, 11), itself, in all probability, an echo of that prophecy. The passage is quoted almost verbally from the LXX. translation, the words “of man” taking the place of the “thereof” of the Hebrew. In “the word ( rhêma ) of the Lord” we have a different term from the Logos of verse 23. It has, perhaps, a slightly more concrete significance and may thus be thought of as pointing more specifically to the spoken message of the Gospel. It is doubtful, however, looking to the use of the word in Hebrews 1:3 , Hebrews 1:6 :5, Hebrews 1:11 :3; Ephesians 6:17 , whether any such distinction was intended, and it is more probable that St Peter thought of the two terms as equivalents, using the word rhêma here, because he found it in the LXX. This “word of God,” abiding for ever, was the subject of the Gospel message, but is not necessarily identified with it. It was proclaimed to men by the heralds of glad tidings even as Christ had proclaimed it.
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"Commentary on 1 Peter 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30